by Matthew Thompson
Everyone will be talking about the last fifteen minutes of “Hardhome” this week and rightfully so. It was spectacular to behold visually and thrilling to watch unfold while managing to make important strides in setting up what will be a large part of the show’s endgame. Yet just about every scene that preceded this climactic sequence worked as well. The result is easily the best episode of Game of Thrones’ fifth season.
So let’s start with that final battle. Much like the one at The Wall last season, this was just packed with memorable moments. Like the giant busting out of the burning building as he flung away the wights that were crawling up him or the White Walker leaders looking on from atop the cliff as a sea of wights hurled themselves off to continue the assault. But there were also some smaller stories told within the larger battle. Like that of the Wildling Chieftainess. Her story begins before the White Walkers attack, but I was impressed with their ability to develop her character over such a short period of time. When she said goodbye to her children on the boat, it certainly felt like a death knell but it was still a strong moment when she was faced with the prospect of fighting the wight children (who were legitimately frightening by the way) and couldn’t handle it. Her short arc during the episode even gave the Night’s King’s raising of the wights at the end more oomph.
And of course there was the fight between Jon and the White Walker. This, like the larger sequence itself, was filled with the kind of moments that stick with you. There was the Walker’s entrance extinguishing the surrounding fire and the looks of shock both it and Jon gave as Longclaw didn’t shatter against the Walker’s weapon followed by Jon shattering the White Walker itself (which doubled as confirmation that Valyrian Steel is effective against these icy foes).
It wasn’t just an excellent action setpiece though. It also succeeded by giving significantly more weight to the threat that are the White Walkers and their undead army. All signs point to these being the show’s “big bad” and while they have been shown in brief bits throughout the series, this shows just how dangerous an enemy they are. This wasn’t so much a battle as a massacre. You could feel the dread throughout this final portion of the episode. This makes their looming presence more real for the survivors of the incident and us the viewers, both of which are a big positive for this show going forward.
Before we got to Hardhome, we also got to see the first genuine interactions between Daenerys and Tyrion. The initial meet last week was a little lackluster, but I loved their two scenes together this week. I was wondering how Tyrion would pitch himself to Dany, but the way he does it here makes me buy Dany accepting him. He has a nonchalant attitude about the possibility that Dany could sentence him to death. He questions whether she is worth his time. It all feels like the kind of clever approach Tyrion would take in this situation. They also connect over similar aspects of their family histories. Dany even manages to get a clever jab in about Tyrion’s drinking. It all ends with Dany taking on Tyrion as an advisor and I remain excited to see what these characters do together.
I liked the way we checked in periodically throughout the episode with Cersei. Seeing her a wreck like this is interesting and Lena Headey does a wonderful job showing Cersei out of sorts. Qyburn’s visit with her is the most substantial scene letting us know how Kevan, Jaime and Tommen are reacting (or not reacting) to her imprisonment.
We also see substantial developments for the Stark sisters despite limited time spent with each. Arya essentially gets her first assassination job while Sansa learns that Bran and Rickon could still be alive. Lana and the backstreets of Braavos both had a great look while Sansa and Theon’s scene featured some top-notch acting. The scenes with the Sam at The Wall and the Boltons at Winterfell were probably the weakest this episode, but even they were fine. I suspect after the high budget battle in Hardhome this week we won’t be seeing any big confrontation between Stannis and the Boltons this season. Maybe that is part of why Ramsay’s plan comes up to make this a smaller conflict (though he seems eager to prove himself to his father after conversations in recent weeks too) or perhaps they will hold off the bulk of this until next season. I feel like the show has also lacked subtlety with their portrayal of Olly so far which made that scene land less well for me.
A few more things:
- Scene of the Week: The battle of course. It was probably the best large-scale fight sequence in the show to date. I’d probably need to rewatch some of the others throughout the series to be sure though. At the very least, I think the location of the battle, the way it played out and the different style of enemies gave it a very distinct feel compared to other battles in Game of Thrones so far.
- I didn’t touch much on the scenes in Hardhome that preceded the battle, but they were great too. I particularly liked the conversation regarding Mance’s death and his hopes for his people. And the opening shots were just so beautiful.
- I love the absolute quiet at the start of the opening scene in Dany’s Throne room.
- Jorah continues to have a rough go of it.
- No Dorne was probably a positive for this week’s outing.
- Why the people in Jon’s boat weren’t rowing like madmen at the end, I don’t know.
“Hardhome” was an episode this season desperately needed. It gave us one of those classic Game of Thrones moments we will be talking about for years to come, but it was also an excellent outing from beginning to end that avoided any of the problematic issues that have plagued some of the other episodes this year. This was my favorite episode of the season by far and I hope the last two episodes can build on the quality of “Hardhome.” What did you think of this episode? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading!